Mental health - The elephant in the room

February 12, 2019| Health and Wellbeing /

With the rates of mental illness on the rise in Australia, particularly in young people, we decided to open up the can of worms and speak to Epworth clinical psychologist, Hannah Hawkes, about the elephant in the room.

Why does it seem today that a lot of people experience mental illness?

I’ll start off by saying a lot of people do have mental illness, it’s a very common thing. Around four million Australians have a mental health problem at any one time and more than one in five Australians experience a mental health disorder in any given year.

The rates of mental illness are increasing, particularly in those aged 15-19 and particularly in females, but we don’t know why exactly that is.

We’re lucky now to have increased awareness around mental health, with the help of media and more people feeling confident to speak up. With an open conversation we can increase awareness.

What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

That’s quite a common question and sometimes people will need to see both, but the main difference is that a psychiatrist has completed medical training as a doctor and chosen to specialise in psychiatry and they can also prescribe medication, which is something a psychologist definitely can’t do.

Psychologists have at least a four year degree in psychology and then will go on to do at least another two years training or study on top of that. Psychologists tend to specialise in assessments and/or therapy.

At Epworth Clinic there are a mixture of social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, amongst a number of different allied health professionals.

If someone has a mental illness, will it be lifelong?

For more common mental health disorders, treatments now are fantastic and success rates in treating people are very high. Sometimes mental illness can recur across a lifetime, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is unwell for their entire life.

Where does mental illness come from?

There isn’t really a simple answer to this question, but our best guess is that it’s a mix of environmental and genetic factors. Mental illness can run in families but that’s not to say that someone with a family member with mental illness will also experience it.

Can someone with a mental illness maintain a job and be in the workforce?

Absolutely. It depends on how well they’re functioning and how supportive the workplace is. It’s also perfectly fine to take some time for recovery and self-care if you need it.

The tips I’d give someone who is a bit nervous about talking to their boss about their mental illness is to write some things down so that they don’t feel too overwhelmed and to provide reassurance that they’re still themselves, they just have some symptoms that need a bit of extra time.

Do you think people with mental illness get discriminated against?

Unfortunately I think they do, but I think things are getting much better. This could even come from family and friends who when they reveal their diagnosis, choose to withdraw from them a bit. Other people might get the sense that they’ve missed out on job opportunities due to mental illness. It’s important for people to talk about it so others feel less isolated.

Do you have any tips for people around how to work towards good mental health?

Keep active, find an exercise that you enjoy, you could practice mindfulness, seek support and ask for help if you need it - whether this is from family, friends or a doctor.


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